Engadget and others today picked up on an acronym and initialism-laden press release from chip-maker Qualcomm about the “first successful VoIP-over-LTE to WCDMA handoff.” Qualcomm’s marketing folks may not have put it in an easy-to-understand fashion, but they believe this is an important breakthrough.
They are right.
The problem is that nobody — not even Engadget’s usually reliable down-to-earth writers — have gotten past Qualcomm’s alphabetic mumbo jumbo (i.e.: 3GPP, CFSB, SRVCC, VoLTE, WCDMA, etc.) to explain what this development really means to mere cell phone users.
We’ll give it a shot.
Voice over IP (VoIP), of course, has changed the way we make phone calls from work or the office by transforming voice into an internet application (like email or chat) that simply moves packets of data from one point to another. The mobile calling industry is still way behind and VoIP is not offered by carriers like AT&T, Sprint and Verizon.
Of course, the carriers like the piles of money they get by charging customers separately for their voice and data networks, and they are slow to adopt technologies that adversely impact profits. And, yes, 3G data networks are too poky, less than reliable and not yet prevalent enough to depend on for millions of phone calls.
But, now that 4G networks are becoming more common (particularly in key urban centers) and companies like Samsung and HTC are releasing phones that take advantage of the speedy new networks, VoIP (or what Qualcomm has branded “VoLTE”) calls on mobile data networks are not only feasible, but will probably become standard in the not too distant future.
Standing in the way of this major leap forward, however, is that for a mobile carrier to migrate over to a single dedicated voice and data lane like LTE, there needs to be an interim method in place to bridge the old and new technologies. Otherwise, a mobile call initiated on a newer data network would simply drop off when the caller moves into a network relying solely on old voice technology, making mobile phones not very mobile.
So seamless handoffs are key before mobile carriers will offer VoIP-like calls on their networks. Such handoffs are what Qualcomm claims to have accomplished with its proprietary MSM8960 Snapdragon S4 chip — and plans to demonstrate at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in late February.
It is a major milestone and one, when fully deployed, could mean the beginning of the end for metered voice minutes over cellular networks. Not a $0.45 minute too soon.